Create A Critter
Since 1972, the volunteers of the Brandywine River Museum have been making critters. Over the years, the designs have evolved from very simple figures to more involved creations. Critter construction takes little more than a hot glue gun, good dried materials, and imagination.
Click here to create a beginner level, teasel reindeer. For a more advanced ornament, a ballerina bear, click here. To purchase a critter book with many step-by-step directions for creating beginner, intermediate and advanced critters, click here.
Preparation of materials is important but not difficult. All organic material must be dried before it is used. Some materials, such as flowers and grasses, are hung and air dried. Others, such as the more delicate flowers, are dried in silica gel. Still others are dried in a slow oven for an hour or more and left in the oven until cool. Nuts, especially, must be oven dried to kill any worms or insects that might inhabit them. Pinecones with heavy sap may be placed in a slow oven (turned to lowest temperature) on cookie sheets covered with foil. The sap “bakes” onto the pinecone, making it easier to handle and giving it a natural shine.
Teasel is one of the most often used components in Brandywine critters. It must be cleaned and its seeds must be removed. This can be done by gently rubbing together two pods with their points facing each other. Pods can also be cleaned with an old toothbrush. Because teasel is somewhat prickly and hard to handle, gloves should be worn.
Milkweed pods provide wings, hair, fur, and tails for many critters and angels. Pods are split while they are still green. The “fluff” inside is then removed and the pod is propped open to dry. Soybeans are dried and sprayed with clear acrylic to help keep them from splitting. Soybeans are used for critter legs and arms. Pokeweed seeds are obtained by crushing the pods and removing the seeds with tweezers. These seeds are used for eyes.
The only mineral used is Mica, which must be washed, separated and dried before it is ground. It can be ground a few layers at a time in an old blender or coffee grinder. Mica adds a sparkling touch to angels and stars.
Cornhusks and other materials such as okra, teasel, lunaria and pinecones can be bleached to remove mold and to lighten. Cornhusks are submerged in heavily diluted bleach (five gallons of water to two cups of bleach) for one to three days depending on the amount of mold on the shucks. Husks are turned occasionally during bleaching to insure complete and even coverage. After bleaching, husks are removed from the solution, wrung out gently, and dried on a rack or old screen in bright sunshine. Rubber gloves should be worn during this process to protect hands from the bleach.
Materials are always stored in paper bags or cardboard boxes to allow air to circulate and minimize mildew damage. If plastic containers are used, tops should be removed so that air can reach the materials.
Hot glue guns are used to construct critters because hot glue sets more quickly and holds more firmly to natural materials than other types of adhesives. Since hot glue has a tendency to drip or trail, it should be used carefully.
Construction of a few practice critters to become familiar with the materials is always a good idea. When critters are completed, they are sprayed with a clear acrylic to protect them and make them better able to resist breakage. Spraying must be done outside on a clear day. Never do the spraying indoors. Also, never discard leftover materials. Save them for another inspiring project!
Creating A Reindeer Critter
1 small teasel
1 large teasel
2 dried daylily stems
2 golden chain tree seeds
1 small dried red seed
clear acrylic spray
2 white pinecone petals
1 pussy willow
8" lightweight, green floral wire
- Using clippers, cut stem and bract from two teasels. The larger teasel will be used for the body, the smaller for the head.
- With scissors, trim the smaller and larger teasels where the head and body join. The trimming enables a stronger bond when glued.
- Using hot glue, glue the trimmed areas of the teasel together. Hold until glue is set.
- For antlers, cut dried daylily stems to 1-1/2". Use hot glue on ends of stems and insert into small teasel.
- With points of scissors, make small holes in front of antlers for the eyes, glue in golden chain tree seeds using hot glue. Make a third hole for the nose and glue in red seed.
- Trim white pinecone petals for ears, hot glue petals behind each antler, slightly to the outside of each daylily stem.
- Using hot glue, glue in the four soybeans for legs. See picture for placement.
- Using hot glue, glue in a pussy willow for the tail.
- With wire cutters, cut an 8" piece of lightweight, green floral wire. Wrap 2" of wire once around body behind the neck and twist tightly. This is the hanger.
- Spray entire critter with clear acrylic spray.
Creating A Ballerina Bear
3 - 3" teasels
3 - 2" teasels
2 - 1" teasels
8" length of lightweight,
8" green floral wire
3 golden chain tree seeds
sharp pointed scissors
4 - 1" pinecone petals
1 dried, red chili pepper
18" of raffia
4 lengths of cornhusk
6 Eucalyptus leaves
3 small dried flowers
clear acrylic spray
- With clippers, remove the stem and bract from all teasels. Trim 1/4" off the pointed tops of all the teasels.
- For the legs, with pointed scissors, trim two of the 3" teasels where they will be joined with the other 3" teasel which is being used for the body. The trimming enables a stronger bond when glued. Hold in place until the glue has set.
- For the arms, repeat the same technique in trimming as in step 2 using the 2" teasels. Glue the arms as close to the top of the body teasel as possible. See picture.
- Using the 8" length of floral wire, make a 1" circle at one end, twist and place it on top of the body teasel. For the head, glue a 2" teasel on top of the body teasel and wire. The additional 7" of wire will be the hanger.
- For the ears, glue the 1" teasels in place. Hold until set.
- For the eyes and nose, glue the 3 golden chain tree seeds in place, using tweezers.
- For the hands, glue 1" pinecone petals in the tops of the arms. The petals should be facing downward.
- For the feet, glue pieces of dried, red chili pepper on to the 1" pinecone petals. Trim the pepper to the exact shape of the petals. Tie two bows using 1/8" by 2" lengths of raffia. Glue them to the red shoes. Glue the red shoes onto the leg teasels. (See picture.)
- With pointed scissors, cut a 1/4" ridge around the middle of the body for the location of the skirt. To determine the amount of cornhusk for the skirt, measure the waist.
- For the skirt, using scissors, cut a 2" wide by 12" long piece of cornhusk. Soak the cornhusk for ten minutes, to make it pliable. After soaking, remove the excess water with paper towels. With needle and thread, carefully shirr cornhusk strip, to fit around the waist and to overlap 1/4" in the back. Apply glue in 1" sections around the waist and push in cornhusk as you go. Do small sections at a time because the glue dries quickly.
- From raffia, make a 1/2" wide by 6" long braid. Glue braid around the waist, criss-crossing it in the front and letting the ends extend to the sides. Glue eucalyptus leaves and dried flowers to the ends of the braid. (See picture.)
- Glue eucalyptus leaves and a small dried flower on the top of one ear.
- Spray entire ornament with clear acrylic spray.
Brandywine River Museum, U.S. Route 1, P.O. Box 141
Chadds Ford, PA 19317 Phone: 610-388-2700
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